Senior Qantas executives urged to volunteer as baggage handlers

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To tackle acute labor shortages resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, Australia’s national carrier has come up with an unlikely solution: asking senior executives to participate in the baggage carousel.

In a recent memo to employees, Qantas called on managers and executives to volunteer over the next three months for tasks such as sorting and scanning bags, moving them from belt loaders to aircraft and driving bag-carrying vehicles – called “tugs” – from the aircraft to the terminal. (A current driver’s license is required, the memo says.)

Given the training requirements of the job – which involves carrying bags weighing up to 70 pounds and riding safely on the tarmac – all corporate volunteers are asked to commit to “at least 12 to 18 hours on three shifts per week,” the memo reads.

The volunteers will be “embedded” within the ground handling teams, the memo from Qantas says. “This means you will be given a roster, scheduled to operate, and supervised and managed in the live operation by our ground handling partners.”

Travel is resuming after a long pandemic period in which Australians were mostly not allowed to leave the country or, in some cases, travel to other states. The company said it was grappling with a spike in cases of coronavirus and other illnesses, such as the flu, during the winter Down Under.

Australia reopens borders to tourists after almost two years

The airline industry around the world is grappling with the legacy of the coronavirus, which has led to chaotic travel scenes this summer: canceled flights, lost baggage and passenger caps at airports, including the airport of ‘Heathrow in London, which recently announced that it restrict the number of departing passengers to 100,000 per day.

According to the flight tracking company FlightAware, in the past two months, 2.2% of US carrier flights were canceled and 22% – or 260,000 flights – were delayed.

Much of the problem stems from an industry-wide labor shortage, as airlines misjudged how long it would take for travel to resume following the pandemic shutdowns. Qantas dismissed 1,700 ground handlers in 2020, outsourcing work in an effort to cut costs. The country’s workplace watchdog ruled the move illegal and Qantas is currently challenging this decision in court.

First there were flights to nowhere. Now there are “mystery flights”.

Sydney Airport has been rated among the worst in the world for flight cancellations and delays, with lines that meander regularly outside the terminal.

A Qantas spokesman said on Tuesday the airline is aware that it “has not met the expectations of our customers or the standards we expect of ourselves”, which was partly the reason for the call from management.

Qantas Airways chief executive Alan Joyce initially accused “rust” or inexperienced travelers for long delays at the airport.

About 200 head office employees have responded to airports during peak periods since Easter, the spokesperson said. The memo calls for at least 100 managers and executives to volunteer for this round.

“As we manage the impacts of a record flu season and ongoing COVID cases coupled with the tightest labor market in decades, we are continuing this contingency planning in our airport operations for the next three months.” , said the spokesperson.

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